Guiding Young Writers While Forging New Bonds

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2021 issue of Views from the Hill.

Strengthening our bonds with New Haven while creating new opportunities to enhance our relationship with the vibrant community we call home has been a longstanding goal at Hopkins School. Traditionally, that goal has been realized through our many clubs and service programs in collaboration with Greater New Haven organizations, through educational outreach programs such as Pathfinder Hopkins School, and by bringing visitors to the Hill. This year, Hopkins took that goal a step further by creating two new programs that, in addition to deepening community ties, are helping to enrich our writing curriculum by tapping the incredible talent that exists in our own backyard: the Hopkins Writer in Residence, and the Young Apprentice Writers’ Program, an exciting summer mentoring opportunity for Hopkins students. Both programs are currently in the pilot stage; Hopkins is seeking funding partners who can help us to establish each as a permanent part of the English curriculum.

Mentoring Young Writers

YAWP! Sound familiar? If you’re a fan of Walt Whitman, you might recognize it as a word out of his famous poem “Song of Myself.” Fittingly, it is also the acronym for the Young Apprentice Writers’ Program, a new summer mentoring program for Hopkins students who have a passion for the pen. Developed and championed by Hopkins English teacher Brad Czepiel, YAWP pairs aspiring student writers from Hopkins with published authors from the Greater New Haven community who can offer mentorship, support, and guidance. It is designed to both complement the excellent programs in the Hopkins English curriculum and to offer a deeper dive into the writers’ art. “We have a resource in New Haven County of these amazing world-class authors,” says Czepiel. “Why not get them together so that the kids can learn from someone in the business?” YAWP provides an exceptional opportunity for students who are drawn to the craft, who, he says, simply can’t NOT write. “A lot of what the kids are learning from their mentors is practical stuff. ‘How do I develop this scene? How do I structure this part of my book?’”

Czepiel added that YAWP can give students a deeper sense of what their writing can do or be, and how it can fit into their life picture. At the same time, he wants to highlight the students’ work. “Hopkins has an awesome English department and the writing the kids produce is amazing. I want to draw some attention, both on campus and off, to some of the great writing kids are doing.”

The program will culminate in October with a reading on campus by students and their mentors. Five authors are mentoring in the program this summer, each working one-on-one with a student for a total of 20 hours. Hopkins is actively seeking additional writers/mentors to be able to expand the YAWP program to more students next year.
 
Current participants include Mexican-American poet and novelist Jenn Givhan, author and SCSU English Professor Rachel Furey, author and Hopkins Faculty Emerita Christine Jacox, writer/poet and Quinnipiac University Professor Jason Koo, and poet/novelist Sarah Strong. Hopkins is thrilled to be able to provide these authors with a stipend in exchange for the significant time and effort spent mentoring our young writers. Maisie Bilston ’21, who is working with Christine Jacox, said the experience has been wonderful so far. “I’m really excited to be working with Ms. Jacox! She and I share a similar taste in poetry, which is really nice since she has a sense for the kind of writing I do and understands my goals for the summer… She’s given me some incredibly helpful comments on my work and has made some suggestions for both future reading and projects I could start working on, and I look forward to seeing how my writing evolves over the summer.”

Anyone interested in participating should contact Brad Czepiel at bczepiel@hopkins.edu

Writer in Residence: Reginald Dwayne Betts

In March 2021, Hopkins announced that award-winning poet and nonfiction writer, New Haven resident, and Hopkins parent Reginald Dwayne Betts P’26, would serve as the first Hopkins Writer in Residence.

Like YAWP, Writer in Residence is designed to deepen our connections with the New Haven community while enriching the student experience and expanding our English curriculum. “The goal of the Writer in Residence position is to have someone who is local and who, through literature, commits to community engagement in the classroom and on the page,” says English Department Chair Joe Addison. The responsibilities of this yearlong position, made possible this year by the Fund For Social Justice, include teaching Hopkins English Department courses, offering office hours and workshops to all Hopkins students, working alongside student-run literary groups, connecting Hopkins students to other writers in the New Haven community and beyond, and lastly, involving students in their own artistic projects.

This spring, Betts taught the Further Studies in Poetry elective for juniors and seniors and focused the course on post–World War II African-American poetry. Since beginning his tenure, he has also hosted a virtual poetry workshop that brought together Hopkins and New Haven Public School students, as well as a presentation of his book of poetry, Felon, and Q&A for alumni, parents, and faculty this June as part of Hopkins’ Virtual Alumni Weekend.

“The spirit of this position follows the spirit of the written word as defined by Mr. Betts: Poetry is ‘part of trying to be alive in the world’ and writing more broadly is an attempt ‘to figure out what it means to better yourself in the face of a history that troubles you,’” added Addison. “Literature can bring together the breathing, dynamic bodies of school and city, and it can offer our shared communities a chance at mutual discovery and deeper mutual understanding.”

For information on becoming involved with the Hopkins Writer in Residence program, kindly contact Joe Addison, English Department Chair, at jaddison@hopkins.edu.
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    • Reginald Dwayne Betts - Writer in Residence